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Malaysian capital on lockdown as nation braces itself for biggest demonstration in years

by: Bhavan Jaipragas/

MALAYSIA – Key areas in Kuala Lumpur have been put on lockdown by the local police ahead of tomorrow’s Bersih 2.0 rally, according to Malaysian news portal Malaysiakini.

The website reported that at least four water cannon trucks and seven riot police vehicles were spotted at the historic Dataran Merdeka, with the entire area cordoned off as well.

A police officer the website spoke to said more than 200 personnel had been deployed at the site from 10 am on Friday, with more expected to arrive in the evening. Reserve personnel were sited at the Universiti Malaya campus located outside the Kuala Lumpur city centre, he added.

32 major arteries in the Kuala Lumpur road network are expected to be cordoned off by the police from midnight Saturday. Signs have been put up at Federal Highway toll centres leading into Kuala Lumpur warning motorists that they face police action if they participate in the rally tomorrow.

Telecommunication and Internet networks in Malaysia will not face similar restrictions, according to Home Minister Hishamuddin Hussein, who had declared Bersih 2.0 an illegal entity a week ago. This was contrary to the Bersih 2.0 steering committee’s claim that mobile phone and Internet networks would be disabled over the weekend.

Speaking at a press conference, Hishamuddin also said there were no plans to call in the military to assist in public order, as the police had the situation under control.

With 91 individuals including de facto Opposition chief Anwar Ibrahim, his daughter Nural Izzah Anwar, UMNO Youth Chief Khairy Jamaluddin and Bersih 2.0 Chairperson Ambiga Sreenivasan barred from entering the Kuala Lumpur city centre on Saturday, Hishamuddin said the police would assess the situation if they are spotted within the city.

‘We want to make sure nothing happens … (maybe) if (Bersih 2.0 chairperson) Ambiga Sreenevasan and (opposition leader) Anwar Ibrahim go alone, and there is no threat to public security (we won’t arrest them). But the order is there… nothing more, nothing less,’ Malaysiakini reported him as saying.

Separately, the website also reported that a government issued sermon was used in all Kuala Lumpur mosques during this afternoon’s Friday prayers. The sermon warned of ‘traitors to religion, race and country’ who had caused anger among the Muslims for questioning their rights. The sermon was also published in the country’s Islamic Development Department website.

Late Friday evening Bersih 2.0 released a statement saying that it would press ahead with the rally at Merdeka Stadium at 2pm tomorrow, despite not being able to attain a permit to do so. Authorities have turned down the movement’s request to have the rally in the historic stadium where the nation’s founder first declared independence, citing public order concerns.

The statement called on supporters to ‘meet at the carpark (of the stadium), and trust that the doors will be opened for us’. The statement ended with a clarion call for Malaysians to safeguard the principles the nation was founded upon.

‘This is Malaysia’s single most important defining moment in recent history’, it said.

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Photo courtesy Free Malaysia Today.